I drove 200 miles down US 83 from Bismarck to Pierre. The quietest Capitol to Capitol journey of my tour. Pretty sure there were less than a dozen cars between the two cities. Pierre, South Dakota is the second smallest Capitol city behind Montpelier, VT. It is also one of only four Capitols to not be serviced by an Interstate highway. Dover, Jefferson City, and Juneau are the others. It is however, serviced by the Missouri river, which plays a multi reasoned part of it's history.
The name Pierre comes from the Fort located across the river Fort Pierre. Fort Pierre was named for an American Fur trader from St. Louis, Pierre Chouteau Jr.. When South Dakota became a state in 1880, Pierre was chosen as it's Capital due to its centrally located position in the new state. I found a peaceful Pierre with it's Capitol and closest churches on a Sunday afternoon.
The closest church Lutheran Memorial Church was literally across the street from the Northwest side of the Capitol. It was also the newest of three I found close by, built in 1942. A few blocks further to the North, I found Saints Peter and Paul Catholic church established shortly after statehood in 1882. The third church is First Congregational UCC, a block behind Lutheran Memorial, the fourteenth location of this community. This church history is truly tied to Pierre, it's native Lakota roots and the Missouri river for it's ministry. The History below is from their website. https://www.pierreucc.org/our-history.html
Our church roots are the most established in the Pierre area; First Congregational Church’s legacy begins in the mission work of Stephen Return Riggs in 1840, carried on by his son, Thomas, in 1872. They began forming relationships with the Lakota that lived on the land, and shared with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike many missionaries of the time, they didn’t believe that the Indian way of life should be exterminated. They believed with passion that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was meant to be shared with all people everywhere, in their own languages. This led Riggs and others to form the first Lakota Bible, Lakota dictionary, and Lakota hymnal. By learning Lakota and teaching English, the Riggs family planted churches up and down the river, all led by Lakota lay ministers. Today, that tradition still carries on in the life of the Dakota Association – 13 churches on four reservations who are led by Lakota pastors serving their local communities.
Our local congregation took root here in 1880, a few years before South Dakota became a state! The first services were held with a membership of nine people and a minister, Rev. William B. Williams. On November 28, 1880, they organized the first church in Pierre in a railroad construction shack on Coteau Street. Rev. Williams came to Fort Pierre by steamboat and served the Home Missionary Society and preached on ‘both sides of the river.’ Two months later, he brought his wife to Pierre and lived in a tent in what is now Griffin Park. The church would later move from the railroad shack to a tent at Dakota and Fort Street, because the tent was warmer. Moving from one location to another, Eugene Steere writes, “my wife and I would go out on Sunday morning and find we had been ousted from the previous place and have to carry the organ and books to some new-found place.” All in all, the church worshiped in fourteen places before building its first permanent home. With financial help from the East, the small congregation built its first church at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Pierre Street. The church was dedicated September 3, 1882, with the Rev. Thomas Riggs of the Oahe Mission preaching the first sermon. The church building served the congregation until 1932, when a new building was constructed at Highland and Prospect for a cost of $23,200. During the church’s history it has had 29 ministers, including its present pastor, The Rev. Emily Munger.
On the wide open and sprawling prairie, our Congregationalist forefathers and mothers played an integral part in the development of Pierre and surrounding areas. They were involved in government, as educators, doctors, surveyors, ranchers and farmers, tradesmen and women, parents and members of voluntary associations that provided for the interests and needs of the communities.
In 1957, Congregationalists sought to unite in worship with our Reformed, Christian, and Evangelical friends in faith to form what is known as our denominational identity today: The United Church of Christ.
Little did I know of this amazing formation of faith as i walked the rest of the Capitol grounds. A beautiful Capitol Lake was created just Southeast of this black capped Capitol. The quiet beauty of the entire area gave an unusually peaceful feeling for a State Capitol. I can't wait for another chance to visit Pierre and explore further the connection between church and state.